Euro 2008: The good, the bad and the barely acknowledgeable
So here we are, then: Day 19 of 19 at Euro 2008. The day of the Final, the day this whole tournament has been leading towards. This is the day where Euro 2008 comes to an end by crowning its new champion.
And that champion will be either Spain or Germany, two teams that have looked impressive at times during this last three weeks but have also shown some frailties too. It's exactly that which makes tonight's Final so eagerly awaited, to say nothing of the fact that neither Italy nor France - two of the recent mainstays of world football finals - will be competing.
To put it succinctly, my head says Germany will win the big finalé, but my heart says Spain - purely and simply because they, more than us, want to lay to rest that label of 'perennial under-achievers' that's stuck with them for the last forty-or-so years.
All in all, however, I'm hoping for a great Final with lots of wonderful football and absolutely no headbutting whatsoever. And so as we look forward to the last match of the competition, let's look back and pick out what were for us the best bits, the worst bits and the staggeringly unexplainable bits.An unconvincing start
Not sure about you, but compared to the start of the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008's beginnings weren't much to write home about. Frankly, we were a little worried. After the slightly stale opener between the Swiss and the Czechs, we then had the match between Portugal and Turkey which was goalless for the first hour and without a second goal until the 93rd minute. To be honest, we weren't convinced about the prospects of this competition until the fourth match when the Germans turned on the style against Poland. Still, it turned out alright in the end, didn't it?One for the thesps
What was almost as disenchanting as the lack of early excitement was the prolificness of the play-acting. For a tournament in which the referees were supposed to be clamping down on simulation, it looked decidedly like nothing could be further from the truth. Croatia and Turkey gave us some particularly good examples of theatrical football in the first few matches and when Cristiano Ronaldo took to the field in the second match, the whole event could have gone into some sort of BAFTA-award-winning meltdown. Luckily for us, the football-watching cognoscenti, this unpleasant aspect to the game also abated to our general satisfaction.Proper football, the way we like to see it
When the tournament did catch fire, boy
did we like what we saw. First Portugal took on the air of a team that would live up to their pre-tournament hype as the games went on, then Germany emerged as the professional, efficient outfit we all think of them as. But when the Dutch delivered a brand of exciting counter-attacking football that few could have predicted seeing, everyone was in raptures. They sent a breath of fresh air rushing through Euro 2008 which made everyone sit up and take notice. Spain would also come along to maintain the feeling of excitement by demolishing Russia 4-1 and suddenly we were all set fair on the road to a memorable tournament that we all hoped we'd get.British TV Coverage
Apologies to all those outside the British Isles, but here's a quick essay on the way we've seen Euro 2008 on our screens here.
The BBC, as ever, were slick and polished about the way they presented the action from Austria and Switzerland. Once again, they had an excellent opening title sequence, had their studio positioned in a spot that overlooked one of the most beautiful areas of Vienna and had the usual, competent personnel on show to set up each match (i.e. Lineker, Hansen, O'Neill, Dixon, etc).
All of which went against them in many ways. The BBC are now very much in danger of being too formulaic in their approach, and if ITV up their game a bit, they might just see some of their followers switching channels in future. Gary Lineker is now starting to look old, tired and slow, relying more than ever on weak puns to get him through a broadcast. Alan Hansen says everything he always did say in the way you know he's going to say it and Martin O'Neill regularly looks like he'd rather be somewhere else... which is exactly the situation Ian Wright decided to do something about not so long ago.
ITV have some catching up to do , but they're slowly doing something about it. While their commentators remain mildly annoying - something which John Motson has admirably avoided after all these years - their choice of guest pundits has been distinctly refreshing. If you discount the regular presence of Andy Townsend, the equivalent of that know-all from down the pub that once had a trial with Millwall, there was Alan Curbishley, Sam Allardyce, Gary Neville - all people that have a current connection with the game outside of TV. What they say is worth hearing because it's relevant.Best commentary dialogue
Without a shadow of a doubt, this must be credited to the man who makes George W Bush sound like Albert Einstein - David Pleat. While watching Cesc Fabregas control a high pass on his chest before sweeping a shot towards goal all in one movement, he reminded us of a great non-existent footballer with the words:
"...shades of Terry Sheddingham, there..."
A co-commentator without equal, is ITV's David Pleat.Technical shortcomings
Let's make one thing clear: cameras suspended from wires above the stadium are NOT the way forward. Period.
And if, like the BBC, you happen to be providing a facility via your website where you can watch games replayed after the event, it's probably a good idea to cut out any bits where, for instance, a power cut may have occurred. Watching a caption saying "Sorry for the loss of pictures" for 20 minutes when there's no need to beggars belief.Good players, bad players
Some competitors rose to the occasion over this last few weeks while others, in some respects, didn't show up.
With some predictability, Austria and Switzerland both showed they lacked the firepower to remain in their own tournament, although undoubtedly Alexander Frei might have proven otherwise if he hadn't got injured so early.
Spain showed off their priceless assets of Villa and Torres while the Netherlands gave us a new name to conjure with in Wesley Sneijder, but for France there were few if any squad members that came out of their three games with any lasting credibility.
Germany, of course, had some familiar names from recent tournaments that were always going to make the difference for them - Podolski, Klose and Ballack to name but three - yet Croatia managed to make their collective kudos count for nothing in the First Round.
Elsewhere, other jewels shone in the alpine sun, and here we feel the need to mention Italian 'keeper Buffon, Portugal's Pepe and Croatia's Luka Modric. Hell, we were even impressed by Spain's Senna, but that's just us.That feel good feeling
Finally, though it took a little while to develop, we most liked the feel-good nature of Euro 2008. Each game's had a good atmosphere inside the stadium (and outside from what we can make out), there's been some exciting football to watch and even though there hasn't been as many memorable goals as we'd like to have seen, it's been a tournament that left us pining for more when it wasn't there in between rounds.
Oh, and there's only been three red cards throughout. Much to be happy about and much to reflect on with a wry smile when tonight's Final's all over.
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